online solicitation of a minor sting nets nine arrests
By LYNETTE SOWELL
Nine Central Texas men have been arrested and charged in an online child sex solicitation sting which began last Monday and ended Thursday night.
The Copperas Cove Police Department and the Coryell County district attorney’s office provided support to the Texas Attorney General’s Office Crimes Against Children Exploitation Division, who conducted the sting.
On Monday morning, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton held a press conference in Copperas Cove to discuss the results.
After being introduced by Sgt. Martin Ruiz of the Copperas Cove Police Department, Paxton read a prepared statement, saying this latest sting is part of an ongoing effort by his office and law enforcement agencies across the state to get these dangerous individuals off the internet and in jail.
“I’m grateful for the individuals in our child exploitation unit and the dedicated law enforcement officials they work with. They utilize the latest technology to track down some of the most profoundly evil predators on the internet,” Paxton said. “In so doing, they live virtually the nightmare of online child exploitation so that real children and their families won’t have to.”
He added that today, “Nine individuals who have been arrested no longer pose a threat to the children of Texas.”
Coryell County district attorney Dusty Boyd also addressed the county’s role in cooperating with the attorney general’s office.
“We’re grateful to your office, your efforts and resources in allowing a jurisdiction of our size to interact and collaborate and cooperate with your officers, your investigators. Anytime you have the opportunity to work with outside agencies to engage these types of criminals, it’s a great opportunity,” Boyd said. He also acknowledged the role of the Copperas Cove police department in the sting, and highlighted the importance of Internet safety.
“It also brings to mind the commitment and concern that all parents should have for their children at home, with today’s technology and our society, with computers and cell phones,” Boyd said.
He also had cautionary words for parents.
“Please be vigilant about who your children are talking to, when they’re talking to them, and how they’re talking to them. These people are there. They do exist.”
David Maxwell, the attorney general’s director of law enforcement, fielded a few questions about the status of the investigation, and whether the suspects have a history of contact with children.
“We’ve arrested the individuals, this is an ongoing investigation,” said Maxwell. “Some of this information will come out at a later date.”
As far as if there might be children out there who are victims of these nine, the attorney general’s office will be looking at that as part of the ongoing investigation, Maxwell added.
Boyd said there has been communication between the county and Fort Hood, to ensure that the JAG Corps is aware of the criminal charges these three soldiers face.
“We do our best to communicate the nature of the offense, so they can make adequate decisions,” he added.
Three of the nine arrested are Fort Hood soldiers with ranks of E7, E5 and E2. One of the nine arrested, Joseph Allen Hosler, is staff member of the Killeen Boys & Girls Club.
The investigative team members posed as teenage boys and girls online, and arranged to meet for sex with suspects. The suspects responded to ads on Craigslist and other social media sites, according to affidavits. After exchanges of emails and/or texts, the men made plans to meet up with what they believed to be teenaged girls or boys at a location in Copperas Cove where they were arrested.
The following men were arrested and charged with online solicitation of a minor- sexual conduct: Steven Anthony Blankenship, 26, of Killeen; Steven Lee Merrill, 37, of Harker Heights; Justin Logan Perez, 21, of Harker Heights; Jesus Antonio Aboytes-Mendoza, 27, of McGregor; Joseph Allen Hosler, 26, of Killeen; Matthew John McVaney, 21, of Copperas Cove; Jason Lee Smith, 34, of Troy; Robert Thomas Duven, 51, of Killeen; Martin Kenneth Edwards, 21, of Fort Hood.
As of yesterday morning, the attorney general’s staff said three of the individuals remain in the Coryell County jail.
Copperas Cove councilmen Gary Kent and Mark Peterson attended the press conference, and Kent posed a question.
“As a father, a grandfather, it’s on my mind, as other citizens, what else can we do, to bring these individuals to justice?” Kent asked. “Every child deserves the opportunity to grow up predator free.”
Maxwell said the attorney general’s office has an outreach program for a number of years, in which representatives will visit schools and churches to young people, parents and teachers about problems with the Internet, and how to be safe, and what to look for.